Set High, Achievable Goals


Carl Sandburg remarked, “Nothing Happens Unless First a Dream” Our challenge? To turn an invisible dream into a measurable reality.

Imagine a pilot coming over the intercom and announcing: “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we’ve lost one engine and our direction finder. The good news is we have a tail wind and wherever we’re going, we’re getting there at a rate of 600 miles an hour!” I don’t know about you, but I’d find that news rather disconcerting! Yet people often “fly along” in their lives like that – directionless, lacking energy, but being pushed swiftly along by the winds of circumstances. David Mahoney advises to take heed of such tendencies to lose sight of your goals: “The important thing is not where you were or where you are, but where you want to get.”

My friend, Glenn Van Ekeren, tells about his teenage years when he was hired by a local farmer to do the fall plowing. His first day on the tractor was disastrous. He explained, “As I watched the plow turn the soil behind me, little did I realize that by the time I reached the end of the field, the row was incredibly crooked. Toward the end of the day, the farmer arrived to survey my work. The crooked rows prompted him to give me this advice: ’You can’t plow a straight row if you keep looking behind you. You must keep your eyes focused on your goal straight ahead.’ And so it is with life. Plowing our way into the future is powered by meaningful and specific goals. Focusing on the past, what lies behind, will prevent us from focusing our energies on what lies ahead.”

Don’t allow distractions or backward glances to sidetrack your thinking. As you work toward your goals, be like a laser beam focused powerfully and directly on your target.


I love the story about the time Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes misplaced his ticket while traveling on a train. Watching him fumble through his belongings and pockets in growing frustration, the conductor tried to ease his mind.

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Holmes. I’m sure you have your ticket somewhere. If you don’t find it during the trip, just mail it in to the railroad when you reach your destination.” Appreciative of the conductor’s empathy, yet dismayed by his predicament, he looked the conductor in the eye and responded: “Young man, my problem is not finding my ticket. It’s to find out where in the world I’m going!”

Where in the world are we going? And how are we going to get there?


At first glance, identifying “what hurts most” may seem a little harsh. But think about it: the characteristics that bother you the most about yourself (for example, being overweight, being impatient with your children, being disorganized/inefficient at work) can become your goals, your “target areas” to improve. For example, your thought, “My disorganization really slows me down at work” can become the goal, “I will be more organized. I will do this by cleaning out my desk, staying on schedule, filing items immediately upon receiving them, and purchasing a day-planner. I will clean out my desk by Wednesday at noon and I will purchase a planner today on my lunch break.”

Yes, identifying what bothers us most may be the very first step to goal achievement because it helps us recognize exactly what we want most. And we set goals based on stopping pain and creating pleasure in our lives. Since people have created goals for thousands of years, we can benefit from a fail-safe formula that works:

I Apply the 7 Steps to Success

  1. Choose only those goals you deeply care about and are absolutely committed to achieving.
  2. Write your goals in detailed specifics.
  3. Give yourself a time limit.
  4. Break goals into small, doable steps.
  5. Consistently and enthusiastically take action.
  6. Notice what’s working (or not) and reward yourself along the way.
  7. Continue to make course corrections until you achieve your goals.

The more deeply you are convinced of the absolute necessity of reaching your goals, the more tenacity you’ll exert as you work toward them.

James Allen wrote: “One who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal, will one day realize it.” Belva, age 68, from Vancouver, Washington, understood this. After training herself to become an accomplished musician, she offered this advice: “You must love the thing you want to accomplish!”
How are you going to decide on your goals? Here are some suggestions for “preparing the soil” properly:

  • Go somewhere alone.
  • Think deeply and slowly about the most important things in your life.
  • Carefully consider where you want to be in ten years, your “ideal life.”
  • Ask yourself, “What do I want to be doing in ten years? Who do I want to be with? What do I want to look like? What do I want my life to look like?”
  • Then, think about your “ideal life” in five years . . . in one year . . . in six months . . . in one month.
  • Create detailed, visual pictures in your mind of your ideal self and your ideal life.
  • Use the “I DR” 3-Step Formula:
    • Identify your goals
    • Decide which are your highest priority
    • Resolve to focus like a laser beam

The human being is goal-seeking by design. Dr. Maxwell Maltz, best-selling author of Psycho-Cybernetics, compared the mind to the homing system in a torpedo or an automatic pilot:

Once you set your target, this self-adjusting system constantly monitors feedback signals from the target area. Using the feedback data to adjust the course setting in its own navigational guidance computer, it makes the corrections necessary to stay on target. Programmed incompletely or nonspecifically, or aimed at a target too far out of range, the homing torpedo will wander erratically around until its propulsion system fails or it self-destructs. (Psycho-Cybernetics, Prentice-Hall, 1960)

The individual human being behaves in very much the same manner. Once you set your goal, your mind constantly monitors self-talk and environmental feed-back about the goal or target. Using this negative and positive feedback to adjust your decisions along the way, your mind subconsciously makes adjustments to reach the goal. Programmed with vague, random thoughts or fixed on an unrealistic goal too far out of sight, you’ll wander aimlessly around until you give up in frustration, wear yourself out, or self-destruct.


Writing goals in detailed specifics is of utmost importance. There was an experiment conducted in 1985 with 100 high school students who all discussed and decided upon future goals. Fifty of the students merely talked about their goals, and fifty students wrote their goals in specific terms and gave themselves a time limit. Ten years later the students were questioned. Of the fifty students who did not write their goals, only 15% had achieved them. Of the fifty students who wrote their goals in specific details, 92% had achieved them.

Our minds can’t effectively deal with undefined statements. However, give your mind a definite, clearly defined, laser-targeted goal and watch the power it will manifest! Create goals that your mind can clearly envision and work toward, written in terms it can understand. For example, a salesperson’s goal might be, “I will give my sales presentation to 12 people before noon on Friday.”


Not only do you need specifics, you need a time frame for success. A goal without a time limit is no better than a wish. You want dreams with a deadline. The simple act of deciding when you’ll achieve a goal is a huge step towards making them a reality.

Since time is so valuable, you may consider setting time limits on activities at home and at work. For example, schedule errands for just one afternoon a week or combine them in a timely way. Decide that all your housework will be completed in 30 minutes each day and work, with your family, quickly each morning or evening to get it done. I’ve discovered that I can be more productive with goal achievementand my family is more peaceful when our home is clean and orderly.

Schedule blocks of time to accomplish your tasks at work. Follow a daily to-do list, giving each task a time limit. When the time for that project has expired, move on to the next one and either complete the unfinished task before going home or save it for the following day.

Another strategy that works is to inform your friends and loved ones of the blocks of time when you won’t be available. During the most productive hours of your day, allow no distractions. Let your answering machine take your calls and think of yourself as a laser beam – zeroed in on productivity and goal achievement!

A valuable strategy you’ll learn is how to use the Power of Positive Crisis.  Click Here to read about how to use positive crisis for goal acheivement. It’s an important piece of the “time issue” which will help you create a sense of urgency and propel you forward at warp speed.


No matter how large the task, it is infinitely easier when broken into daily tasks. For example, if you were considering losing 40 pounds, the thought is daunting. However, when you contemplate losing two pounds a week for 10 weeks, it seems more achievable. How about the goal of writing a 250-page book? At first, it might overwhelm you, but if you think about just writing three pages a day, it’s not so bad, and it would only take you a few months to do that.
If writing a book is one of your goals, this is how it looks:

Goal                                                    Time limit                                               How
I will write a book                     3 months researching                                    —
(About 250 pages)                       4 months writing                                         —
Begin researching Jan. 5th             Research 2 hrs/day
Begin writing April 1st                   Write 3 pages/day

After writing your goal, an additional task is to convert it into even smaller, more detailed steps for your Daily Action Plan. . Click Here for an article on how to learn about using a Daily Action Plan.

A word of caution is necessary here: while on your goal achievement journey be sensitive to your level of energy, your family, work, and personal commitments and your life circumstances. Use this as a measure: choose goals you can realistically work on without damaging your health, relationships and family time. You’ll know when you’re spending too little or too much time on goal achievement. Finding a balance is a key to peaceful living.

Marianne, age 24, recently graduated magna cum laude from a fine university. At times during her education she was so overwhelmed that she wrote her goals in “baby steps” like this: “I plan to take one class at a time, one chapter at a time, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one problem at a time, one equation at a time.”

Brady Burr, age 21, is recovering from muscle cancer. I am impressed with Brady’s insightful comments and his wisdom at such a young age. He remarked, “Nobody ever leaped to the top of a mountain! All things must be done in steps.”

John, age 24, from Vancouver, Washington, passed a difficult Certified Financial Planner course. He commented, “The review guide was about 600 pages and I knew I had to cover the entire book twice. This meant 1,200 pages in 40 days or 30 pages a day. I kept to that schedule and even studied during the breaks on exam day!”


Once you’ve chosen your goals and put them into small steps, two magical keys are consistency and enthusiasm as you work every day, every week, every month toward your goals. This will happen naturally when you are totally committed to reaching them. Goal achiever extraordinaire, Alexander Graham Bell, explained it this way: “What this power is I cannot say. All I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.”

William E. Holl remarked, “You can do it gradually – day by day and play by play – if you want to do it, if you will to do it, if you work to do it over a sufficiently long period of time.”

What about the enthusiasm part?

“Nothing good or great can be done in the absence of enthusiasm.”
Tom Peters

“Enthusiasm is the electric current that keeps the engine of life going at top speed. Enthusiasm is the very propeller of progress.”
B. C. Forbes

“Like the chicken and the egg, enthusiasm and success seem to go together. We suspect, however, that enthusiasm comes first. If you hope to succeed at anything in this world, polish up your enthusiasm and hang on to it.”
John Luther

Of course you can reach a goal without enthusiasm, but how enjoyable is the journey? While you’re working toward your goals, do it with a great attitude and lots of enthusiasm and it will be much more fun! Here’s an example:

When the alarm goes off and you know that means work-out time, instead of thinking “Oh, man . . . there is no way this body can get on that treadmill this morning!” . . . instead, think, “OK – here we go again…another chance to turn this body into a ’macho machine’/raving beauty!” Use your sense of humor and have fun with it . . . your subconscious is paying attention!

Dr. Charles Garfield contributed the following experience about a man who lives life with enthusiasm:
If you have ever gone through a tollbooth, you know that your relationship to the person in the booth is not the most intimate. It’s one of life’s frequent non-encounters: you hand over some money; you might get change; you drive off.

Late one morning in 1984, headed for lunch in San Francisco, I drove toward a booth. I heard loud music. It sounded like a party. I looked around. There were no other cars with their windows open, so I looked at the tollbooth. Inside, a man was dancing.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m having a party!” he answered. “What about the rest of the people?” I noticed no one was dancing in the other tollbooths.

He said, “Good question. What do those look like to you?” He pointed down the row of tollbooths.
“They look like . . . tollbooths. What do they look like to you?”

“Vertical coffins. At 8:30 every morning, live people get in them and sorta die for eight hours. They act brain-dead as they just go through the motions. Then, at 4:30, like Lazarus rising from the dead, they leave their coffins and go home. They do that every day.”

I was amazed. This guy had developed a philosophy about his job in a tollbooth! Sixteen people dead on the job, and the seventeenth, in precisely the same situation, figures out a way to live. . . and live enthusiastically! I couldn’t help asking the next question: “Why is it different for you? You’re having such a good time!”

He looked at me. “I knew you were going to ask that. I don’t understand why anybody would think my job is boring. I have a corner office, glass on all sides. I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, a big piece of San Francisco, and the Berkeley hills. Half the western world vacations here . . . and I just stroll in every day and practice dancing!”


Positive reinforcement is the way all animals (including humans) learn best. For decades, this has been verified in numerous experiments. Reinforcement is the fastest method of conditioning a new pattern. Linking pleasure to behaviors you want to repeat speeds up the process of change. We can turn goal-striving into goal-arriving with frequent, motivational rewards.

For example, if your goal is losing weight, then immediately reinforce the slightest progress. The moment you choose to walk by the cookie jar instead of reaching in, say to yourself, “Good job! I feel great at 128!” (“I feel fine at 209,” or whatever is your ideal weight) And when you push away your plate instead of taking a second helping, reinforce that progress by saying, “This isn’t easy, but I can do it! I’m feeling better already!”

If your goal is to quit smoking, don’t wait until you’ve gone a month without smoking; when you’ve gone eight hours without a cigarette, reward yourself with an ice cream cone or some other “pat on the back.” As you congratulate yourself, both your conscious and your subconscious mind learn to link pleasure to positive change.

Again, once we make even the slightest bit of progress, we should reinforce it immediately. My younger sister, Carol, is an outstanding aerobics instructor. She would never think of concluding a class by saying, “Well, that was a nice try, but you didn’t do the routines very well, so I’ll see you all on Wednesday and we’ll try it again…and be on time Wednesday!” She wouldn’t have many people return to her class, would she? Far better would be a comment like, “Hey, you did great today! You worked hard and gave it your best effort! I sure loved doing the routine with you and I can’t wait to seeing you again Wednesday. Take care now!”

But, you know, sometimes it’s easier to encourage others than to encourage ourselves, isn’t it? We need to give ourselves pep-talks like, “Yeah, I did work hard, and I am doing great! My routine isn’t perfect yet, but it’s coming along and I’m proud of myself!” Good self-talk is one way of rewarding yourself. Another way is to buy a little something special when you reach a milestone toward a long-term goal. Or take a mini-vacation, or treat yourself to a long phone conversation with a special friend. Be creative and plan your rewards in advance so you can look forward to them. You’ll find yourself going from reward to reward and then – you’ve reached that long-term goal!

Most institutions and organizations understand the importance of rewards. In our early years at elementary school, our teachers gave us gold stars. As we grew older, we received grades, diplomas, awards and bonuses. Don’t wait for the applause of others; give “self-strokes” as you succeed at even the smallest task. This is one way it can work:

  • Take each goal and choose three or four milestones that you consider to be the most significant “intermediate goals.”
  • Decide on rewards to give yourself for the intermediate goals.
  • Exercise discipline. Don’t give yourself rewards until you’ve honestly reached your milestones.

All airplane pilots, CEOs and ship captains understand this: staying on-course as you progress toward your goal requires course corrections. The goal is to move forward; improve; develop. And so you first plot a course (set goals), then start the journey (take action in the direction of your goals). From time to time, however, you may veer a little to the right or to the left as you move along because distractions and obstacles are inevitable. Count on them; don’t let them discourage you. Just make course corrections and get back in the groove. Let’s look at an example:

Jaime was determined to lose twenty pounds. She had her plan – both long-term and short-term. She was “on track” with her new work-out routine and improved eating habits, and she lost eight pounds the first five weeks. Jaime was thrilled. Then, a series of events knocked her for a loop. She went out of town for five days to attend her sister’s wedding, and it was nearly impossible to work-out daily and eat right. When she returned home, Jaime immediately came down with a nasty cold, which she had for nearly a week. She hadn’t worked out during that week, and was derailed with her diet, too. When Jaime’s health returned, she got on the scale and realized that she’d gained back five of the eight pounds.

Jaime has choices now. She can either grumble and give up, or correct her course and get back on track. Course corrections. If you accept them as part of the long-term plan, you’ll have a far better chance for success.


How can you make course corrections without evaluation as you go?

Sometimes, as we move toward a goal, we discover that our previous good intentions and best-laid plans simply aren’t right for us. Perhaps our information was wrong, our assumptions were a little off, our approach was too time-consuming or inefficient, or our priorities have changed. Course corrections need to be made, the sooner the better. Rather than allow this to discourage you, let each detour or setback provide clues for handling similar tasks differently and for making better choices in the future.

“Some men see things as they are and say, ’Why?’
I dream of things that never were and say, ’Why not?’”
George Bernard Shaw

~ Dr. Paula

 Preparation – Critical for Success                                       She Invented a Best Selling….. 

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